The most recent spark in the alcohol policy debate comes not from Middlebury, but from across the country at Stanford University where Miriam Pollock recently published an editorial comparing Middlebury and Stanford’s alcohol policy. An incredibly well-written, and insightful piece, Pollock’s perspective casts new light on the different approaches collegiate institutions can take in addressing alcohol consumption. What follows is a re-posting of the Stanford Review piece. Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Credit is due to Miriam Pollock and the Stanford Review.
Students file into the stands above Youngman Field, decked out in white and blue. The visiting team scores a quick touchdown, dampening the crowd’s spirits. But soon thereafter, quarterback Matt Milano launches an eighty-yard drive that ends in a dramatic touchdown. The students and alumni in the stadium go wild.
Meanwhile, a junior, removed from the action of the game, stumbles across Route 30 into the woods and unloads his lunch. He can barely walk. The junior had drunk heavily at the pre-football game tailgate. A Public Safety officer spots the student and determines he needs to be transported to the hospital. The student is sent to the hospital and safely recovers from his alcohol poisoning. Subsequently, he will receive both punishment and counseling.
The scene should be familiar to anyone who has attended a college football game: some students go too crazy at the tailgates, endangering themselves and others. Often, they will never even make it to the game. This scenario — with a different stadium, different quarterback, and different students — could play out almost anywhere in the US. But in this case the specific game took place at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts school in Vermont.
Understandably, the Middlebury administration — like many college administrations across the country — wants to reduce incidents of binge drinking at tailgates. And so, on September 16th of this year, Erin Quinn, Director of Athletics, announced a new policy. Alcohol was completely prohibited at tailgates, even for those 21 and over. (“Loud” music was also banned, causing students to question whether the policy was meant to protect them or to prevent them from having fun.)
While ensuring students remain safe is a laudable goal, this misguided policy is unlikely to accomplish that. In fact, this policy may even encourage binge drinking. Furthermore, it impinges on student freedom. Contrast all this with Stanford University, which has a far more relaxed alcohol policy. Residential staff champion an “open-door” policy. Students are encouraged to drink with their doors open; in turn, Residence Assistants (RAs) promise only to intervene if students’ safety is at risk. Is Stanford’s model more effective at keeping students safe? Which is right — the zero-tolerance approach, or Stanford’s more tolerant one?